Thursday, May 18, 2017

A New Peach Polyculture - for free

We've slowed down significantly on our poultry projects. I've stopped selling hatching eggs and have only sold the occasional gosling this spring. This is mainly because I have put all my extra effort into planting and maintaining our food forest. We have been using every extra moment this spring to get a ton of trees in the ground. We had break from planting last year while the tall, dark, and handsome member of the family recovered from back surgery, so we are making up for it this year.

In addition to planting new trees, we have put together our very first food forest polyculture and we did it for absolutely free.

What is a polyculture?

Polyculture simply means growing different kinds of plants together in a way that benefits the whole. A good food forest polyculture will include plants that create mulch, fix nitrogen, repel pests, attract beneficial insects, and build soil minerals.

The bones of this polyculture

The polyculture is formed around two semi-dwarf peach trees that we planted in 2013. One is 'Intrepid' and the other is 'Red Haven'. The 'Red Haven' tree bears the most delicious peaches I have ever eaten and so has a very special place in my heart. Last year I planted a bunch of nitrogen-fixing bushes that I bought from the Kansas Forest Service throughout our food forest.  In this area there is both a False Indigo (Amorpha fruticosa) and a Siberian Pea Shrub (Caragana arborescens). There was also a Russian comfrey plant grown from roots that I traded hatching eggs for a couple of years ago.

'Redhaven' peach tree in mid-May. The leaves are slightly white due to the kaolin clay spray we apply for a month after petal fall for pest control purposes

So the trees and nitrogen fixers weren't free, but every other item used in this project was.

Next Step - Sheet Mulching

We sheet mulched the area in the fall to kill off the grass and make way for the plants we'd add in the spring. My husband and kids put down a layer of cardboard and I dumped a wide variety of organic matter over the top - used litter from my chicken and duck houses, fall leaves, and wood chips. We ended up with a good 6 inches of organic matter by the time I was done.

After I pruned some bushes this spring I put down some of the twigs and small branches as a path through the polyculture. Such ramial wood is a top food for the beneficial fungus we are seeking to partner with. If I had a chipper on hand I would have used it, but whole twigs will decompose, too, albeit at a slower rate.

All the other plants in this polyculture were either started them from seed that we were given, transplanted from volunteer seedlings or divisions from other parts of our garden, or were received the plants as free bonuses from a nursery. Quite a number of the plants were started from expired seed that was discarded by retail stores. Most seeds will germinate quite well even after several years, so when we had the chance to get expired seed packets for free, we loaded up.

'Red Lake' currant
more Comfrey
Lemon Balm
Garlic Chives
Flanders Poppy
Butternut Squash

I plan to allow all the herbs to go to seed and to spread, creating a ground cover that should choke out grass and weeds while yielding us product. If they get too rampant, a little chopping and dropping in place as mulch will keep them in check.

The new polyculture right after planting

I'd like to add some more plants with tap roots, such as horseradish or daikon radish, and more comfrey and other mulch plants but otherwise I am very pleased with what I ended up with for absolutely FREE.

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